There’s no ignoring what is happening in the United States and being supported around the world, or at least there shouldn’t be. The events in Minneapolis with the murder of George Floyd were the spark that started the fire of social revolution. All around the country there have been protests against systemic racism and police brutality, including Salt Lake City, that has been matched around the world.
Changes are coming and have already started yet it seems the message hasn’t rung completely through for the fans in Salt Lake City. The fans’ interactions and the atmosphere for visiting players has been well documented. Last year a Utah Jazz fan made national news after an ugly interaction with Russell Westbrook that pushed the ugly culture to the forefront as former players confirmed that those type of things were more the rule than an exception. Matt Barnes tweeted “I said it b4 Utah Jazz have the most racist fans in the NBA.”
After that event Jazz players Kyle Kover, Georges Niang, Thabo Sefolosha and Ekpe Udoh sat down to talk about the event and share their disgust. One of the points that rings loudest to me was how the fans have passion for the Jazz but if the players swapped jerseys would they treat them the same way as Westbrook was treated? Most importantly they talked about the need to hold each other accountable in the moment.
With the protests going on against racism sports racism has been addressed, including at the highest organizational levels. Former baseball player Torii Hunter talked about how he would never accept a trade to the Red Sox because of the racial epithets he experienced in Boston. The organization didn’t shrink from the moment and acknowledged it was absolutely true and it’s part of their history they need to address. Action will prove the words true but that was a big first step and an example for the rest of the sports world.
After Donovan Mitchell posted on Instagram ‘free-ish since 1865’ he was met with an immense amount of criticism. Plenty of ‘fans’ told Mitchell he had no idea what he was talking about, that he couldn’t have that opinion because he makes millions, that he’s a basketball player and has no idea what’s going on. While the comments may not have been overtly racist they are racial ignorant. Mitchell plays basketball, it’s what he does and not who he is.
There were plenty of fans who applauded him for being a voice for what’s happening but so much negativity was commented on his post and the message was received. Spida took to Twitter to say “Seeing a lot of people’s true colors…” “Said it once and I’ll keep saying it!! Y’all can’t hide no more.” “Can’t see how yall can openly cheer for us then when it comes to this be against us so openly!!” All those ‘fans’ told Donovan to ‘Shut up and dribble.’ and tried to marginalize him, exactly what all the protests have been fighting against. It’s as if the fact that he is successful means all he experienced in the past was negated and their opinions were more important because he can lay back and count his money.
This is much bigger than basketball, but for those fans who only want their star player to be about basketball what do you expect these comments to do to Mitchell’s desire to stay? A year ago during the AD trade saga I wrote ‘small market teams have seven years to make something happening or their star will leave.’ There are some players that stay like Damian Lillard, but so many bounce for greener pastures after that restricted free agent deal. I’m sure Donovan Mitchell is keeping track.
I’ve attended Jazz games and other sporting events in the area. There absolutely is an immense passion for the fandom in Utah, but I’ve felt uncomfortable as I’ve been near fans that have crossed the line. Make no mistake, Utah is not the only one, but the consistency of the problem shows this is more than just a case of ‘a few bad apples.’
While the NBA is controlled by the superstars much more than any other league that doesn’t mean fans can’t have their opinion, but Salt Lake is showing they haven’t learned their lesson nor are they paying attention. The ugly history was put back at the forefront last year about the type of culture Salt Lake has had and, despite owner Gail Miller’s comments after the Westbrook incident, Jazz fans as a whole still haven’t learned.
Donovan Mitchell has shown he is nothing short of an upstanding young man and demonstrated it once again with his Instagram post. Spida is not just a basketball player, he is a role model that had the courage to lend his influence to a societal revolution a majority of people are sharing around the world. Too many Jazz fans are taking him for granted and if they don’t look in the mirror they’re going to push him out of Salt Lake City themselves.